Roch Sassi farms limestone slopes along the banks of the Var river about thirty minutes north of Nice, where commanding peaks tower over the little village of Villars-sur-Var. Like a cross between Provence and Savoie, the climate—and the wines he produces—marry both Mediterranean and Alpine influences. In Roch's white, a blend of Rolle, Ugni Blanc, Sémillon, and Clairette, you'll find lovely sun-ripened fruit and a fleshy texture, true to its southern origins. And yet the precision, freshness, and minerality (and alcohol content!) are more reminiscent of whites from further north, where the Alps exert their cool, crystalline influence on local wines. Roch has a truly unique terroir, and his methods allow it to come through in full. Organic and biodynamic farming, native yeast fermentation, aging in neutral vessels... There is complexity and class, and even the capacity to age and evolve for a few years. This jewel is unlike any Provençal white you'll encounter, and it will leave you salivating and in awe!
Roch Sassi of Clos Saint-Joseph (named for his great-grandfather) is the only grower to bottle any wine eked from these incredibly rocky slopes. His wines fall under the Côtes de Provence appellation, even though the much cooler terroir here has little relation to the rest of the AOC. Villars in fact represents an isolated enclave of Côtes de Provence that enjoys a unique microclimate, the dry heat buffered by cold air currents from the surrounding mountains. These conditions allow for full ripening at remarkably low alcohol levels, maintaining lively fruit and bright acidity in the wines.
Perhaps there is no region more closely aligned with the history to Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant than Provence. Provence is where Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters, lived, and introduced Kermit to the great producers of Provence, most importantly Domaine Tempier of Bandol. Kermit also spends upwards of half his year at his home in a small town just outside of Bandol.
Vitis vinifera first arrived in France via Provence, landing in the modern day port city of Marseille in the 6th century BC. The influence of terroir on Provençal wines goes well beyond soil types. The herbs from the pervasive scrubland, often referred to as garrigue, as well as the mistral—a cold, drying wind from the northwest that helps keep the vines free of disease—play a significant role in the final quality of the grapes. Two more elements—the seemingly ever-present sun and cooling saline breezes from the Mediterranean—lend their hand in creating a long growing season that result in grapes that are ripe but with good acidity.
Rosé is arguably the most well known type of wine from Provence, but the red wines, particularly from Bandol, possess a great depth of character and ability to age. The white wines of Cassis and Bandol offer complexity and ideal pairings for the sea-influenced cuisine. Mourvèdre reigns king for red grapes, and similar to the Languedoc and Rhône, Grenache, Cinsault, Marsanne, Clairette, Rolle, Ugni Blanc among many other grape varieties are planted.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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